Microsoft, FUD and the netbook market

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Microsoft, FUD and the netbook market

Brandon Le Blanc from Microsoft posted an interesting post about Netbooks and Linux last week. While we agreed with his comments about customers wanting choice and looking for outstanding hardware options, we disagree with much of his analysis and unsurprisingly the overall ‘spin’ of the post.

While FLOSS software has been improving year on year, the launch of the Asus eeePC with Linux in late 2007 sparked a extraordinary chain of events. We saw an increase in the number of models of computers shipping with Linux, the acceleration of the PC industry’s knowledge of how to work in a non-Windows environment and the repeated extension of XP’s shipping life.

The launch of Windows 7 this year will see the beginning of new chapter in the competition to deliver choice and great customer experiences on standard PC hardware. That is the future – it is worth sharing our perspective on what has happened to date.

Customers welcome choice

We all know that customers like choice and we also know that competition is always good for consumers. We are humble enough as an open source project and company to know that not everyone will want to use Ubuntu. However here is an interesting fact – when customers are offered choice on equally well-engineered computers around a third will select Ubuntu over XP.

Ubuntu offers

  • a safe, virus free environment without having to run expensive anti-virus software that slows PCs down
  • great open source software like Firefox and OpenOffice.org
  • an operating system that boots quickly and stays responsive after years of use

Of course there is a significant benefit for users who do not select Ubuntu or another Linux distribution. The price of XP crashed last year due to competition. So even if you bought a netbook last year with XP – feel free to smile when you see an Ubuntu PC. It’s amazing what an open market can achieve.

Return rates on Linux – Separating fact from FUD

The really big news for the industry is that well-engineered Linux netbooks have similar return rates to XP. What makes a real difference to return rates is not whether it’s Linux or not, but the quality of the device’s hardware and the ability to fully partake in web and media experiences, such as:

  • Adobe Flash player being pre-installed
  • Basic media codecs being pre-installed (these add a few dollars to the cost of a PC)
  • Extensive hibernate and resume cycle testing (many OEMS have had to develop and implement new QA processes to work with Linux)

Customers have every right to expect these basics in their netbooks and we recommend them to manufacturers. Even with Ubuntu’s philosophical and technical opposition to proprietary software, we are clear about the importance of these plug-ins to average consumers. Hey, we even recommend the purchasing of Windows Media Audio and Video codecs to OEMs!

The PC industry learning how to ship with Linux / Ubuntu

Not too long ago, not a single PC manufacturer was shipping Ubuntu. As we go into 2009 – we have never had as many manufacturers nor as many devices being prepared to launch as we do now.

Dell, HP, and Toshiba are all shipping Ubuntu. In Taiwan and China, the extraordinary chain of suppliers who make computers at under $500 possible are learning how to work efficiently with high levels of quality assurance on Linux.

People shouldn’t expect every manufacturer in the market to ship with Linux. It takes time and investment to learn how to do well. Slowly but surely those numbers are growing meaning more units with Ubuntu.

Peripheral Support

Brandon proudly boasts to an admittedly impressive level of peripheral support for Microsoft – the clear implication being that Linux does not match it. Ubuntu and most Linux distributions support over 3000 printers over 1000 digital cameras, and over 200 webcams. It also supports them without the need to search for drivers on dubious websites or load drivers from a CD. Just plug and play.

Looking forward

We are tremendously excited about the netbook category, about launching PCs based on the next version of Ubuntu 9.04 – wow they boot fast. We see continued innovation with the launch of products that support multi-touch, continue to extend battery life and integrate 3G connectivity and GPS functionality.

Most of all – we look forward to continuing to deliver great product to customers who value choice. We are not saying that all of the world should or will use Ubuntu, however the suggestion that customers don’t like Linux is the sort of oversimplification that a great data-driven company like Microsoft might want to steer clear of.

Chris Kenyon – Canonical, OEM Services

P.S Continually repeating that we ‘confirmed’ a 4x return over XP when we did nothing of the sort is really not worthy of a great company like Microsoft. If we are going to compete, let’s do it on real facts and actual statements. You’re better than that, Redmond :-)

9 comments

  1. jblackhall

    As far as the printer, webcam, and camera support, I wonder if those figures from MS are for devices working OOTB on Windows (meaning no downloading anything except maybe right from within Windows and no drivers CDs, making them plug-n-play). This would make the Windows and Linux comparable with “built-in” device drivers. The disparity is evident in devices not “built-in” either on Windows or Linux. If a company is going to develop a new usb webcam, they’re going to write their own Windows drivers and package them with the camera. They’re generally not going to do the same for Linux. It’s not really to Microsoft’s credit or Linux’s fault, but the disparity is there and evident to “normal people” who just want to go to BestBuy and buy a webcam.

    On a side note (somewhat unrelated), despite the fact that you’re linking to a list of >200 webcams that “just work” on Linux, gspca/v4l2 has been broken for many users in Ubuntu 8.10 and 9.04 beta (tested last week). Manually compiling and installing gspca ( http://linuxtv.org/hg/~jfrancois/gspca/ ) will fix things for at least some of us, but that type of situation isn’t ideal for anyone. I really hoped these fixes would be pulled into Jaunty, but it seems like not.

  2. xlinuks

    1) At
    http://www.zdnetasia.com/news/software/0,39044164,62047037,00.htm
    Gerry Carr only stated that the return rates are higher for Linux, no mention about 4x.
    2) Both XP and Ubuntu are good OSes. Whether Ubuntu is able to win big depends on the will/readiness of Canonical to seriously research where Ubuntu has usability flaws. Ironically Ubuntu does better at “advanced” issues than XP (drivers,updates,lack of viruses,repositories) but it fails to acknowledge (or to handle well enough) the “basic” needs/issues which are arguably noticed by the user before the “advanced” ones:
    - A truly beautiful theme (I heard Koala promises to finally remove the “brown problem” and start using modern icons)
    - Interface responsiveness. It’s the main criteria by which non-geeks decide whether the system is slow and XP wins big here. My point: the most used apps (the file manager, text editor and browser) at least by default are considerably slower in Ubuntu. Out of them Nautilus is the biggest problem – it’s highly slow at browsing files (especially compared to explorer in XP), you can’t select multiple files with the mouse and a few other important usability issues upon which the user stumbles often and that makes enough reason for non-geeks to go back to XP.
    It is these little and often issues that make non-geeks un/happy in the first place. I’m using Ubuntu for like 2 years and I came to the conclusion that these “basic” issues are (highly) underestimated in Ubuntu and I hope they will be addressed rather sooner than later.
    The comment is getting long so I won’t comment on the browser and default text editor.
    In short, as a value for non-geeks and non-open-source-fans IMO XP and Ubuntu are equal, except that Ubuntu doesn’t cost you money.

  3. OlsonBW

    The big thing will be when Dell, HP, etc., can market Linux computers on their website, in commercials, and in brick and mortar stores. Currently Microsoft is threatening to hold back 10s of millions of dollars in marketing money.

  4. kanwar.plaha

    Hi Chris,
    Finally I see a post that is most hard-hitting in favour of Linux. I have always (repeat always) wondered why the built-in driver and applications feature of Linux is not touted against MS.

    A Windows XP CD by itself comes with just the OS, no flash, no pdf, nothing else really. A single Linux CD comes with tons of apps and drivers already loaded to be used after installation.

    Once this fact is spread around, it should catch on better with the general public who don’t see the benefits of Linux over Windows easily.

    Cheers.

  5. ubuntucat

    Can you link to where Toshiba sells Linux-preinstalled netbooks? I couldn’t find it.

    About return rates. I’ve been paying attention to all netbook-related news for the past year, and as far as I can tell only MSI has reported Linux netbooks being returned at four times the rate XP netbooks were being returned. Both Asus and Dell have reported XP and Linux having similar return rates.

    As for this idea that Canonical confirmed the return rates are higher, that assertion probably comes as an extrapolation from Gerry Carr’s October remark “We don’t know what the XP return rates are, [b]ut I will say that the return rate is above normal for netbooks that offer open-source operating systems.” Nowhere does Canonical actually say the return rate for is four times that of Windows. And this was in the beginning of October, before the Ubuntu Dell Minis started shipping.

  6. Xfactor

    I am not a Microsoft fan, but Ubuntu does not have a great built in support for one-all-printers or TV-cards (My personal experience with the OS). Also when I want to connect my laptop to a network printer it does not a great job.

  7. sagitta904

    So, which manufacturers are shipping well-engineered Linux netbooks now?

  8. Netbook Fan

    This is the turning point where open source software becomes more mainstream. Great news for open source developers, bad news for guys like Microsoft.

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